‘Tis the season for wonderful produce! That’s especially true for people who opt to join a CSA or farm share. But I’ll tell you the truth: a CSA can also be daunting and a lot of work. In theory, being on the receiving end of five pounds of organic greens sounds great, but the reality of having to wash, prep and cook all those greens will set in eventually. It’s easy to get overwhelmed or discouraged in the face of such abundance.

To help you decide if a CSA is right for you, and to help you cope if you’ve already joined one, I’ve put together a CSA Survival Guide on what to expect from your first CSA.

A What Now?

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture: The idea is that participants opt in before the start of the growing season, paying up front so that the farmer can use the funds to cover planting and equipment costs. Members then get a weekly “share” of what the farm produces, which will vary from farm to farm and season to season, depending on weather, blight, and so on.

CSAs are sometimes referred to as ‘farm shares’ or ‘farm boxes’ — in the case of the latter, the term is derived from the practice of some CSAs to pre-box each week’s share for members. Other CSAs set the week’s produce out, buffet-style, and members take their weekly allotment, which is generally posted on a white- or chalkboard, or on each bin of vegetables (i.e. “7 tomatoes; 1 bunch of kale; 2 pounds of potatoes; etc.”); members are expected to abide by the honor system in self-selecting CSAs.

Members in buffet-style CSAs are also expected to bring their own bags in which to gather their produce; most people stockpile plastic grocery or produce bags for this purpose, and use a large nylon or canvas bag to tote away their week’s share.

CSA season generally begins in June and goes through the end of October, and most operate on a weekly pick-up system at a specified day and time in a designated location. These details vary from CSA to CSA, so do be sure to look into things like season length, pick-up day/time and location before committing to one or another option.